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about 10 hours ago

" Rugosas are also notoriously disease resistant. And because of their floral form, do very well when used in a less toxic IPM program. Most specimens do not like to be sprayed with anything (except plain water). I do not recommend applying any pesticides or fungicides, even if a rarely seen bout of black spot is noticed. Otherwise, phytotoxicity is quick to follow and the shrub will rapidly defoliate. This also means one may have to "let Nature take its course" if pest beetles like Japanese or May/June Beetles are a problem. To control pest beetles, applications of beneficial nematodes (Steinernema or Heterorhabditis sp.) to the soil around the rose may be a better method of control.

For a first time Rugosa grower, I would recommend Hansa (picture above), a 1905 introduction which produces brilliant red-purple, extremely fragrant blooms. It is comparatively small growing (4 - 5ft./1.2-1.5 m). In fall, it produces red-orange hips suitable for making rosehip jams or jellies that is, if you can get to them before the birds do. "

about 10 hours ago

"By: Loren Seibold, lorenseibold[at]ameritech[dot]net, Columbus, OH

Rosa rugosa is native from Japan to coastal Siberia, but they’ve been cultivated and naturalized in many parts of the world. The rugosa and its hybrids have received renewed attention in recent years, particularly among folks who’ve hoped this disease-resistant rose might be the alternative to dosing bushes with stinky fungicides.

There are good reasons why people love them:

Unparalleled hardiness: Rugosas will grow in Cleveland, North Dakota as easily as in Cleveland, Texas. But they’ll be more appreciated in the former than the latter, because northern gardeners haven’t been able to grow most of the fashionable hybrid teas and floribundas. Rugosas are unfazed by bitter cold: both the Canadian Explorers and Parklands series, hardy to –35 ° F, owe their ruggedness to rugos
Rich, green foliage: Rugosa is from the Latin word “rugose,” meaning wrinkled. Rugosa leaves are textured with a fine quilting that gives the foliage depth and richness. A few even put on a modest display of autu
Disease resistance: Rosa rugosa (species) simply doesn’t get the diseases that so bedevil other roses. Its blackspot resistance is legendary. That’s the chief reason rugosas are consistently at the top of the ARS rating scale for shrubs.
Amazing perfume: The fragrance of the best rugosas isn’t subtle or nuanced: it’s powerful. When the Rosa rugosa x alba hedge around Longwood Garden’s (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania) herb garden isin its first flush of May bloom, you only need to be in the general vicinity to be hit by fragrance. Fruit as pretty as the flowers: One of the most memorable garden show displays I’ve seen featured a row of potted rugosas that had been allowed to set cherry-tomato-sized hips. Against the rich foliage, the effect of the prominent orange-red fruit was arresting. Drought and salt resistance: Rugosa is the only rose on most xeriscaping plant lists. While they won’t get as lush on short water rations, they’ll survive and flower. They flourish on Maine’s seawater-splashed beach dunes, which makes them ideal for landscaping near winter salted roads.
Growth in limited light: No rose will grow in full shade, but I’ve seen happy rugosas in only a few hours of sun.

Given all that, why isn’t everyone, everywhere, growing rugosas all the time? Because for all their virtues, rugosas have limitations:

Smallish, often simple flowers: Rugosa blossoms are pretty, but they’re not what most folks think of as classic rose blossoms. The species rugosa has single flowers, and while hybridization has introduced doubleness, individual blossoms usually won’t stop you in your tracks (though the effect of a bush in full flower may).
Short stems: With most rugosas, blossoms pop out in clusters at leaf axils of branch tips, which makes cutting (except for floating in a bowl) not especially practical. Rugosa blossoms are best enjoyed on the bush.
A limited color palette: To paraphrase Henry Ford’s quip about the Model T, you can have any color rugosa you want, as long as you want magenta or pink. That’s an exaggeration, of course: breeding has produced some good whites, as well as a handful of yellows and reds (though no true orange—slightly-peachy Vanguard comes closest). Other colors are a minority to the pinks, though, and aren’t always as pretty or usable.
Limited repeat: Rugosas are labeled remontant, but repeats may be weak or non-existent, especially in hot summer areas.
Big bushes, lots of thorns: A few exceptions (check out the Pavement series, and Frau Dagmar Hartopp ), but most rugosas get large enough to reach out and grab passersby by the sweater. And most won’t respond well to heavy cut backs.
Weedy growth habit: A few rugosa bushes are compact, but even those get a rangy, twiggy look as the summer heats up. Shrubs that caught my eye in May rarely do much for the landscape by August. (They seem to last better in cool summer climates.) I’ve seen rugosas used attractively in landscapes, but rarely will they look as good for as long a time as current landscaping faves like Knockout and Nearly Wild.
The hybridization factor: A new gene pool introduces qualities we want (like flower doubling or a new color), but it may also dilute desirable qualities. Linda Campbell, for example, is a splendid rugosa hybrid, with tresses of unusually long-lasting red flowers. But its leaves aren’t noticeably rugosa, there’s no fragrance, and it can get blackspot.

Cultivation and Use

Rugosas like pretty much what all roses like: well-drained soil, a good nutrient and pH balance, and plenty of sun. But they’ll survive and even do quite well with less, which is why the rugosa is as good a rose for the chemical-free, organics-only garden as you’re going to find. Fertilize on the lean side; rugosas especially dislike the rapid release of nutrients from water-soluble fertilize(MiracleGro® and the like) and foliar feeding can defoliate them.

Unlike most garden roses, rugosas object to heavy pruning. When you use them in landscaping, anticipate the fully-grown bush size and let them grow.

I find it hard, for that reason, to use them effectively in small suburban yards; I’ve liked rugosas best in large country landscapes, where they can soar or flop about as they like, and where their undisciplined habit fits a larger, less formal setting.


Here’s a sampling of some frequently mentioned rugosa varieties:

Rosa rugosa species: The patriarch of the family, a tough, vigorous pink rose, withfragrance, hips, and the typical rugosa overgrown habit. X alba is especially pretty. Makes a quite impenetrable hedge.
Blanc Double de Courbet: A favorite bright white landscape rugosa, whose good favor is mostly deserved. Gertrude Jekyll loved it, though others dislike that it holds on to spent blossoms as unappealing brown blobs. (For just as sparkling a white but more petals, try Blanc Double’s sport, Souvenir de Philemon Cochet.)
Linda Campbell: My favorite rugosa hybrid, it deserves to be grown much more than it is. Pure red clusters on an arching bush or short climber. The most attractive presentation I’ve seen of it is in the Cleveland (Ohio) Botanical Garden, where it fountains from the top of a tall tuteur like an enormous bouquet.
Thérèse Bugnet: A good double pink landscaping rugosa, champoined most recently by that well-known know-it-all Martha Stewart. It may mildew. Hansa: A double pink rugosa you’ll often see on old farmsteads or in country cemeteries. Prettier than the species, and slower growing.
Frau Dagmar Hartopp: A commonplace single pink, whose most noteworthly feature is its compact bush.
The Grootendorsts : Big, robust blooming machines. Choose pink, red or white blossoms, all with a charming carnation-like fringe — but not fragrance.
The Explorer and Parkland roses: series bred by the Canadian government agriculture ministry for severe winters, they owe their toughness to rugosa genes.

The Future of Rugosas

Disease resistance, drought resistance, and strong fragrance are persistently ask for. In an industry where each year’s new rose introductions are only subtly distinguishable from the last year’s, you’d think that a rose offering as many distinctive qualities as the rugosa does would stimulate dozens of new introductions. Most years, though, even one new rugosa is a surprise. Getting something distinctly different without sacrificing any of rosa rugosa’s virtues takes generations of breeding; according to breeders, fertility problems with rugosa crosses have made that difficult. So getting a really remarkable and marketable rose, already a high-stakes gamble, is even more complicated with rugosas.

Perhaps these newer varieties with especially appealing features will stimulate renewed interest among gardeners and breeders:"

about 21 hours ago

In general, good, but typically overrates the middle and late work and fails to appreciate the value of the earlier (or see the pretentiousness of the later).

"In the 1980s everybody was reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. But, as he publishes a novel for the first time in a dozen years, what is the Czech writer’s reputation today – and is it irretrievably damaged by his portrayal of women?
Milan Kundera in Prague, 1973.
Milan Kundera in Prague, 1973. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Jonathan Coe

Friday 22 May 2015 06.00 EDT Last modified on Friday 22 May 2015 19.10 EDT

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On the first page of Milan Kundera’s new novel published in France last year when its author was 85 a man is walking down a Parisian street in June, just as “the morning sun was emerging from the clouds”. His name is Alain. We don’t know his age, or what he looks like, but we know that he is an intellectual because the sight of the exposed navels of the young women he passes in the street inspires him to a series of reflections, each one an attempt to “describe and define the particularity” of different “erotic orientations”.

Who else could the writer of this passage be than Milan Kundera? Two of the main tropes of his novels are present and correct, in the first page and a half: first of all, the primacy of the male gaze, fixed on the female body, “captivated” by it, and spinning an elaborate theory on the basis of what it sees there. Second, the lofty reach of that theory, which homes in on “the centre of female seductive power” as perceived not just by “a man” but “an era”: testifying to the ambition of a novelist who has made it his life’s work to forge connections between the individual consciousness and the shifting currents of history and politics.
Milan Kundera’s first novel in more than a decade to be published in English
Read more

The Festival of Insignificance, then, is certainly typical Kundera, if not classic Kundera. It is an old man’s book and, while there are flickering signs of a mellow and playful wisdom, it would be surprising if there were not something autumnal about it. A glance at the back covers of Kundera’s novels in the Faber editions reveals a raft of quotes from the likes of Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Carlos Fuentes, most of them more than 30 years old, reminding us that his reputation was at its zenith in the 1980s, the decade when everbody was reading The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Why did those books seem so urgent, so indispensable at the time? Was it because they coincided fleetingly with the zeitgeist, or do they embody something more robust and enduring? How will history judge them? His reputation will rest, it seems fair to say, on the three great “middle period” novels: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Immortality. Before these, we have a triptych of serio-comic novels – The Joke, Life Is Elsewhere and Farewell Waltz – vividly evoking the milieu of postwar and communist-era Czechosolovakia without staking out a claim to the formal originality that would become Kundera’s hallmark. Afterwards, we have the trio of terse, slender novellas – Slowness, Identity and Ignorance – whose very titles announce their philosophical leanings as much as their status as fictions.

The middle-period books, however, are the ones that saw Kundera finding not just his distinctive literary voice but his perfect form. They are novels of exile, written in exile. He left Czechoslovakia in 1975, having by then been dismissed from his teaching position, deprived of the right to work, and seen his novels banned from public libraries. His arrival in Paris coincided with a significant change of literary direction. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting eschews traditional linear narrative and unfolds, instead, as a nest of interconnected stories, held together in part by a handful of recurring characters but more firmly by recurring themes, words, motifs. It was as if weighing the anchor of his homeland meant that Kundera had also freed himself from the bonds of formal convention. The novel had an incredible fluidity, an enviable relaxed ease in its transitions from storytelling to essay-writing and back again.
Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
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Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/Cinetext Collection

The inseparability of form and content: this is the one of the things Kundera’s work teaches us. Writing in the novella Slowness about the most famous book of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Kundera observes: “The epistolary form of Les Liaisons dangereuses is not merely a technical procedure that could easily be replaced by another. The form is eloquent in itself and it tells us that, whatever the characters have undergone, they have undergone for the sake of telling about it, for transmitting, communicating, confessing, writing it. In such a world, where everything gets told, the weapon that is both most readily available and most deadly is disclosure.”

This observation, of course, comes not just from an acute literary historian, but from someone who has lived under the scrutiny of the secret police. Writing, and what it might “disclose” about its authors, is one of the most pressing themes in Kundera’s oeuvre, from The Joke onwards. In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Tamina, a Czech exile living in an unnamed western city, will go to any lengths to retrieve 11 lost notebooks from her native country. One of the obstacles she faces is the incomprehension of westerners: “to make people here understand anything about her life, it had to be simplified” – so she describes the notebooks to people as “political documents”, even though they are really books of memories, which she wants to retrieve not for political reasons at all, but because her memory of her early life is beginning to fade, and “she wants to give back to it its lost body. What is urging her on is not a desire for beauty. It is a desire for life.”

Through this story and its other, interconnected companions, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting beautifully illuminates the points in our lives at which identity – the very construction of our selves through memory – intersects with the political forces that are in conflict with it. It is a theme inseparable from the context in which Kundera was raised, the world of Soviet-era communism, a context which fascinated and to some extent baffled western observers in the 70s and 80s, and on which his novels seemed to open a unique window, bringing its complexities to life with unmatched irony, melancholy and intellectual rigour. No wonder that these novels seemed, on first publication, to be among the most essential literary documents of their time.

Hard on the heels of the novels themselves came a book that sought among other things to explicate them: The Art of the Novel, a collection of seven essays in which Kundera laid out his conception of the European novelistic tradition and his own place within it. The key text in his analysis was Hermann Broch’s The Sleepwalkers, a trio of novels with which few British readers were familiar at the time and which even fewer read today. (In fact you can no longer purchase a print edition in this country.) In these books Broch, too, attempted a synthesis of different modes but in Kundera’s view “the several elements (verse, narrative, aphorism, reportage, essay) remain more juxtaposed than blended into a true ‘polyphonic’ unity”. In the light of which, it’s hard not to see all of Kundera’s post-exile work as an attempt to continue the task which Broch had begun, and a triumphant one in the sense that his own blending of these elements feels genuinely seamless and organic.

Did Kundera achieve this, however, at the expense of something crucial – psychological truth to life? “My novels are not psychological,” he asserted in The Art of the Novel. “More precisely: they lie outside the aesthetic of the novel normally termed psychological.” This was a bold negative statement – a statement of what his novels aren’t – but when it came to defining what they are, he was less explicit. “All novels, of every age, are concerned with the enigma of the self … If I locate myself outside the so-called psychological novel, that does not mean that I wish to deprive my characters of an interior life. It means only that there are other enigmas, other questions that my novels pursue primarily … To apprehend the self in my novels means to grasp the essence of its existential problem. To grasp its existential code.”

This “existential code”, he went on to explain, might be expressed as a series of key words. For Tereza in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, for instance, they would be “body, soul, vertigo, weakness, idyll, Paradise”. Captivated by the philosophical brilliance of that novel (and no doubt swayed, in the case of many male readers, by its chilly eroticism), Kundera’s admirers were happy to accept its use of the existential code as a means of delineating personality; or, to put it in the terms of a more traditional literary criticism, they forgave the thinness of its characterisation. But characters tend to live longer in the memory than ideas. A few years ago, in this newspaper, John Banville wrote an interesting piece reappraising The Unbearable Lightness of Being two decades after publication. His tone was admiring but also gently sceptical. “I was struck by how little I remembered,” he wrote. “True to its title, the book had floated out of my mind like a hot-air balloon come adrift from its tethers … Of the characters I retained nothing at all, not even their names.” Conceding that the novel still retained its political relevance, he added: “Relevance, however, is nothing compared with that sense of felt life which the truly great novelists communicate.”
'He has an incredible fluidity, an enviable relaxed ease in his transition from story to essay and back again' … Kundera in 2010.
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‘He has an incredible fluidity, an enviable relaxed ease in his transition from story to essay and back again’ … Kundera in 2010. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

From his own writings, it seems that Kundera would not consider himself to be part of that tradition of “truly great” writers towards which Banville was implicitly gesturing. Many of his favourite novelists – Sterne, Diderot, Broch, Musil, Gombrowicz – really belong to that tributary of ironic, equivocal writing in which the authors are so conscious of the contradictions, pitfalls and contrivances inherent in the act of creating fictions that their books themselves become, on one level, parodies or at least self-interrogations. Kundera’s place within that particular pantheon seems secure, with one important caveat: nowhere is Banville’s sense of “felt life” more uncomfortably absent than in Kundera’s portrayal of female characters.

The feminist case against Kundera has been made often, perhaps never more eloquently than by Joan Smith in her book Misogynies, where she maintained that “hostility is the common factor in all Kundera’s writing about women”. By way of example she cited many passages, including a deeply uncomfortable one from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting in which the narrator makes a secret rendezvous with a female magazine editor who has been putting herself at personal risk by commissioning articles from him. She is so nervous about the encounter, which takes place in an anonymous flat, that she loses control of her bowels. On meeting her, however, the narrator’s main, and inexplicable, reaction is “a wild desire to rape her … I wanted to contain her entirely, with her shit and her ineffable soul”. (This is a grim passage, without doubt, but I find it more of a slander on men than anything else.)

Against Smith’s damning examples, we have to cite the number of female characters – especially in Kundera’s later fiction – who are at least as well realised as his men. Ignorance is by some way my favourite of the more recent novels, not least because its heroine, Irena, is a complex, sympathetic character whose ambivalent attitudes towards exile are explored with wit and compassion. But even here, at the very end of the book, our final image of Irena is a voyeuristic, objectifying one, as she sleeps naked with “her legs spread carelessly apart”, while her lover fixes his eyes on her crotch and “gazed a long while at that sad place”. Why does Kundera feel the need to expose his women with such thoroughness, such cruelty? And how, for that matter, could he have written a 150-page book of essays on the European novel without mentioning a single female writer apart from Agatha Christie?

I can’t help feeling that if anything will undermine Kundera’s long-term reputation, it will not be any absence of “felt life” in his novels, or the fact that his art was developed in a political context that may one day (sooner than we think) be forgotten: it will be his overwhelming androcentrism. I avoid the word “misogyny” because I don’t think that he hates women, or is consistently hostile to them, but he does seem to see the world from an exclusively male viewpoint, and this does limit what might otherwise have been his limitless achievements as a novelist and essayist. Fortunately, The Festival of Insignificance is less disfigured by this tendency than almost anything else he has written; and so, although it may not be a substantial addition to his oeuvre, it might still be a good point of re-entry for those who have been turned off, in the past, by the problematic sexual politics which send ripples of disquiet through even his finest books."

May 22, 15


Jurgen writes: I use CrashPlan to back up specific data for extra "offsite" protection, but I've been having trouble with Time Machine for my local, full system backup and I'd like to try backing up my entire Mac using CrashPlan's local backup feature. Time Machine automatically handles which folders and data to back up to ensure that my system is protected (when it works, that is), but I'll need to do that manually with CrashPlan.

So, if I want a full system backup with CrashPlan that offers the same level of protection as a local Time Machine backup, which files and folders should I tell CrashPlan to back up?

These suggestions apply to virtually any service or software that allows for selective backup."

May 22, 15

"Bagels & Laws
05.21.15 - 12:00 AM | by Jay P. Lefkowitz

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The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition
By Roberta Rosenthal Kwall
Oxford, 336 pages

Bagels and lox are among the most famous elements of American Jewish culture. According to Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, the bagel dates back to the early 17th century in Poland, the nation from which many American Jews trace their lineage. And the word lox is derived from the Yiddish word for salmon. Unquestionably, consuming special foodstuffs—challah, matzo balls, knishes, latkes, kasha varnishkes, kishke—is one way by which many American Jews seek to confirm their Jewish identity. But it’s not the only food group we do this with. There was a wonderful moment during Elena Kagan’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee upon her nomination to the Supreme Court. Senator Lindsey Graham was questioning her about detention and prisoner-rights issues and interrupted her brusquely at one point to ask where she was when the Christmas Day bomber tried to bring down a plane over Detroit in 2009. Without missing a beat, Kagan responded: “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.”

Those who consider food a key connection to the past and peoplehood are likely to be “cultural” Jews, as opposed to “religious” Jews. Indeed, according to a Pew Research Center survey from 2013, 62 percent of respondents said that being Jewish is mostly a matter of ancestry and culture. Moreover, 22 percent of American Jews (and 32 percent of those born after 1980) describe themselves as having no religion at all and consider themselves Jewish solely on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity, or culture. Only 15 percent indicated that their Jewishness was defined primarily by the practice of the Jewish religion. And two-thirds thought that one doesn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish. As I observed last year in an essay in Commentary1, even many traditionally observant self-identifying Orthodox Jews are often driven in their daily practices more by cultural and social impulses than by theological dictates.

The question of what it means to be a “cultural” Jew lies at the heart of Roberta Rosenthal Kwall’s The Myth of Cultural Judaism. Kwall, a professor at DePaul University College of Law, makes two arguments: first, that “Jewish culture produces Jewish law,” and second, that “cultural Judaism absent any connection to Jewish law is an impossibility.”

For those fundamentalist Jews who view Jewish law (halacha) as the unquestioned and delivered word of God, Kwall’s cultural analysis of Jewish law might seem blasphemous. The notion that culture and history can influence changes in halacha is a very slippery and threatening slope. Still, Kwall marshals a great deal of evidence to support her first argument. She cites a story in the Mishna (the first part of the Talmud) that demonstrates Hellenistic influences on early Jewish law. Recognizing that his community needed a place to bathe, Rabbi Gamliel, the leader of Palestinian Jewry in the second century c.e., authorized bathing in the Bath of Aphrodite, even though it contained a statue of the Greek goddess and was therefore spiritually impure.

Kwall also provides post-Talmudic evidence of an evolving halacha very much in tune with the economic and political realities facing the Jews. She notes that whereas the Talmud contains a clear prohibition against both consuming and trading in wines that were prepared by Gentiles, the rabbis in the Middle Ages modified this law to permit Jews to trade in such wine, because “the use of wine for business was an economic necessity.” She also shows that culture has not always resulted in the loosening of halachic prescriptions. Sometimes culture moves halacha in the other direction. Regarding kashrut, for example, Kwall demonstrates that over the past millennium, rabbis have adopted continually increasing stringencies (such as the waiting period between eating meat and dairy, and the requirement of having separate sinks and dish racks) that are neither found in the Torah nor the Talmud, and yet have become part of the mainstream fabric of halacha today.

Leaving her readers with no doubt that she endorses a culturally sensitive halachic tradition, Kwall demonstrates in a chapter on homosexuality how the outer boundaries of halacha are being explored and tested in response to the zeitgeist. As Kwall notes, there are only two explicit statements about male homosexual conduct in the Bible, both in Leviticus and both essentially unequivocal. In Chapter 18, the practice is described as an “abhorrence,” and in Chapter 20, the Bible mandates capital punishment for the sin of male homosexuality. To be sure, the Orthodox rabbinate in America, unlike the Conservative and Reform movements, have made clear that homosexual conduct is not acceptable within halacha. Yet in an acknowledgment to the growing number of gay men being raised in Orthodox Jewish homes and attending Jewish schools and synagogues, more than 200 Modern Orthodox rabbis and educators have signed a Statement of Principles explicitly stating that “Jews with homosexual orientations and same-sex attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community” and “be eligible for ritual synagogue honors.”

And she points out that some Modern Orthodox rabbis have gone even further along the culturally influenced continuum. When Rabbi Steven Greenberg, who holds an Orthodox ordination from Yeshiva University, officiated at what he described as a “halachically meaningful” same-sex wedding ceremony, he was roundly criticized within the Orthodox Jewish community, even its more liberal elements. Demonstrating just how culturally sensitive halacha may actually be, however, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who heads the seminary of the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, responded to Greenberg’s participation by criticizing him for not plunging “into the great pool of our tradition, certain that he will be received by water rather than a dry cement bottom.”

At first glance, one might think that the one segment of American (and world) Jewry that has not been influenced by culture is the ultra-Orthodox Haredi community. It is true, of course, that this community has resisted the trend toward modernization that has changed other strands of Judaism. But culture has altered the norms of the ultra-Orthodox in a very different manner. It is well recognized that over the past several decades many ultra-Orthodox communities have accepted stringent halachic positions or positions that go well beyond halachic dictates, called chumrot. And some rabbis have issued decrees ranging from prohibiting the use of smart phones to requiring strict separation of men and women in stores and buses. It easy to understand why a community so committed to insularity would take on restrictions that respond to the threat that exposure to modern cultural attitudes poses. Technology means that no one lives in a shtetl today, so intensifying observances and restrictions is a way to reduce the risk that culture will erode the identity of the community. This is a move away from culture, not toward it, but it is a response to culture that is shaping the halachic lives of the Haredim nonetheless.

But if Kwall is accurate in her conclusion that Jewish law depends on Jewish culture, it does not necessarily follow that the opposite is true—that cultural Jews are “inevitably molded and shaped by the Jewish tradition, which includes Jewish law.” To support her premise, Kwall observes that “a strong concern for social justice is deeply embedded in the text of the Torah.” And she cites, as an example of the halachic connection to the concept of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”), the biblical injunction to preserve portions of their harvest and vineyards for strangers, orphans, and widows. But there is nothing uniquely Jewish about wanting to do good deeds and good works, or pursue justice and be charitable. Baptists and Methodists and secular humanists and all other religious groups pursue these same ideals. And while it is nice that Jews are able to point to a biblical text that endorses such behavior, there is no basis for maintaining that the overwhelming majority of Jews, who do not define their Jewish identity primarily by the practice of religion, are committed to social justice because of Jewish law. They simply want to live ethical lives.

Kwall argues that no one “can adhere to Judaism on just a cultural level,” because, “in reality, those who claim to be ‘cultural’ Jews still are embracing a degree of Jewish law and tradition regardless of whether they are aware of this reality or acknowledge it.” But that contention can be accepted only if we really lower the bar. A majority of Jews may host or attend a Passover seder and celebrate Chanukah, and both of those practices have halachic origins. But when many Jewish homes that celebrate Hanukah also have Christmas trees, it is hard to claim that Jewish law is really playing a role in these genuinely cultural expressions of Judaism. While the lighting of candles does have a Talmudic origin, there is nothing halachic about eating latkes or spinning dreidels. In this respect, “cultural” Jews are actually not dissimilar from the many “cultural” Christians, who celebrate Christmas for solely social or national reasons—a fact the Supreme Court took note of in its allowance of a Nativity scene beside a plastic reindeer, a Santa Clause house, and a Christmas-tree crèche in a Rhode Island town square because, as the Court observed, “the evident purpose of including the crèche in the large display was not promotion of the religious content of the crèche but celebration of the public holiday through its traditional symbols.”

The fact is that there are many “cultural” Jews (indeed, the vast majority of American Jews) who express their Judaism by engaging in activities that have no basis at all in halacha. They use Yiddish slang; they buy Israel Bonds; they take a Birthright trip to Israel; or they celebrate Christmas Eve by ordering in Chinese food or going out to a movie. For most of these Jews, even when they engage in Jewish activities that are rooted in halacha (like observing Yom Kippur), their acts are not in any way connected to the fulfillment of Jewish law but rather taken simply to be part of a community. (How many Yom Kippur break fasts start before the holiday actually ends or are catered with non-kosher fare?)

Kwall’s claim that even Jews entirely ignorant of their own traditions and uneducated in the laws that have governed their people for millennia are somehow unconsciously motivated by them is simply wishful thinking. And therein lies the serious question that is beyond the scope of Kwall’s book—how to engage “cultural” Jews, who are clearly important to the future of American Jewry, so that they will care enough about their culture to give their children a serious Jewish education. Alas, a bagel is not a solid foundation for the continuation an ancient people—even one with a schmear.

1 “The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account,” April 2014.
About the Author

Jay P. Lefkowitz is a lawyer in private practice in New York and a member of Commentary’s board of directors."

May 21, 15

"Germany's Interior Ministry says it has appointed two Jews to a new commission on anti-Semitism in response to criticism that there was none among the original eight experts chosen.

The ministry said Thursday that Marina Chernivsky, of a Berlin-based organization that fights anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror museum in the capital that documents Nazi-era crimes, would both join the commission.

When created earlier this year the commission drew widespread criticism for not including any Jews; the Interior Ministry responded that the religious affiliation of the experts hadn't been a criterion in the selection process.

The commission will investigate anti-Semitism in Germany over the next two years and present its findings to Parliament as a basis for a discussion on how to tackle problems. "

May 20, 15


Seit den frühen Morgenstunden durchsuchen Kunstfahnder im ganzen Bundesgebiet Wohnungen von sieben Beschuldigten. In Bad Dürkheim gelang ihnen ein spektakulärer Fund.

Kunstfahnder des Berliner Landeskriminalamts haben etliche Kunstwerke bekannter NS-Künstler beschlagnahmt, die seit Jahrzehnten als verschollen galten. Seit dem frühen Morgen durchsuchten die Beamten in einer Großaktion Wohnungen und Häuser in Bayern, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland Pfalz, Schleswig-Holstein und Berlin.

Laut einer Mitteilung wurden acht Tatverdächtige im Alter zwischen 64 und 79 Jahren ermittelt. Sie werden der Hehlerei verdächtigt.

Die Polizei stieß bei ihren Durchsuchungen bei einem Unternehmer in Bad Dürkheim auf zwei riesige Bronzepferde, die der NS-Starbildhauer Josef Thorak 1939 für die Neue Reichskanzlei schuf, und auf zwei Frauenskulpturen des Bildhauers Fritz Klimsch, die ebenfalls im Garten von Hitlers Regierungszentrale standen.

Die vier Skulpturen wurden zuletzt 1988 auf dem Sportplatz einer sowjetischen Kaserne in Eberswalde bei Berlin gesichtet. Seitdem sind sie verschwunden. Zudem fanden die Beamten ein Großrelief von Hitlers Lieblingsbildhauer Arno Breker, das für den Triumphbogen der geplanten Welthauptstadt Germania vorgesehen war. Auch dieses Kunstwerk war seit Jahrzehnten verschwunden.

Die Kunstwerke sollen in den kommenden Tagen abtransportiert und zunächst auf einem Polizeigelände gesichert werden. Über ihre Zukunft müsse der Bund als Eigentümer entscheiden, sagte ein Polizeisprecher.

Die heutige Durchsuchungsaktion ist der vorläufige Höhepunkt monatelanger Ermittlungen der Berliner Kunstfahnder in Zusammenarbeit mit dem niederländischen Kunstdetektiv Arthur Brand. Einige der Skulpturen werden seit etwa zwei Jahren auf dem grauen Kunstmarkt angeboten. "

May 20, 15

"Few subjects in recent years have resulted in newsrooms printing as many retractions, updates and clarifications as have Pope Francis and the Middle East.

Some media watchers allege that the frequency with which newsrooms misreport on both the Middle East and Pope Francis is due to laziness, bias, wishful thinking or a combination of the three.

"Until journalists recognize their prejudices, which may in many cases be subconscious and therefore hard to acknowledge, I doubt the situation will improve much," Tom Gross, a former Sunday Telegraph Middle East correspondent, told the Washington Examiner's media desk.

Though news organizations dispute charges that their reporters harbor bias in stories on the Vatican or events in the Middle East, a dustup this weekend involving comments that the pope supposedly made to the leader of the Palestinian Authority has raised questions of why newsrooms so often get tangled up in reporting these topics.
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This weekend, when the supreme pontiff met Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, initial reports on the meeting between the two leaders stated that Francis called Abbas an "angel of peace."

This claim, which originated with the two print journalists who attended the meeting, the Associated Press' Nicole Winfield and the Irish Times' Paddy Agnew, was pushed out by major newsrooms including the AP, Agence France-Presse, the New York Times, Reuters and the BBC. An online furor among pro-Israel groups that saw the pope's praise for Abbas as inexcusable soon followed.

However, it appears that there is disagreement over whether Francis actually called Abbas an "angel of peace."

Instead, the pope may have urged the Palestinian president to become an "angel of peace," rather than praise him as one, according to reports from Spain's Zenit and Italy's La Stampa: Vatican Insider."

May 20, 15

How to Get Over Getting Tired
Rethinking how we rest by Judy Batalion
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Part 1 of 7 See all ›
Issue 33: The Global Citizen


An Interview with Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen

Nobody—nobody—sleeps enough. The search for slumber is now a collective obsession, the topic of many yawn-filled conversations, marketing campaigns, and headlines. Sleep deficiency causes fatal road accidents and is a costly drain on the workforce. Children suffer at school. Moods are foul. Brains are shrunk. While problems like ADHD, obesity, and bad skin used to be attributed to diet, new studies suggest they might be due to catching insufficient Z’s. Gone are the days of sheep counting; we’ve lethargically moved on to prescription pill (and/or essential oil) popping. And the coffee. So much coffee. Yet little of it works. We are all, it seems, insanely tired.

After nearly losing my mind when my own insomniac tendencies collided with the endless wake-ups of my first child, I hired a family sleep consultant. She “trained” my baby and me to self-soothe, so we could put ourselves back to sleep after
 our many restless nights, which,
 she explained, are perfectly natural—the average full sleep cycle 
ranges from 70 to 120 minutes, 
not eight hours. “We’re training 
our kids to sleep like we do,” she
 wisely explained, “alone and for 
long periods of time.”

That’s when it hit me: Sleep as we know it—what I had 
always perceived to be an innate biological function—was actually a learned, social habit. Sleep is political.

Cultures around the globe sleep differently. In many Asian countries, co-sleeping among family members is the norm. Japanese parents, and even grandparents, often sleep near their children until they are teenagers, referring to this arrangement as a river—the parents are the banks, the child sleeping between them is the water. In New Guinea, it’s common for men to sleep in male sleeping quarters; women and children are on their own. Mediterranean countries have afternoon siestas; their workdays start later than ours, as do their meals and bedtimes. A seminal historical study by Roger Ekirch showed that for centuries, humans slept in two discrete chunks, with waking hours in between.

Shut-eye practices have been set around professional and family patterns (not to mention innovations in lighting). The eight-hour nocturnal slumber is thought to be a by-product of the Industrial Revolution and the standardized labor practices that followed. But fewer and fewer of us—myself included—work a 9-to-5 job, and technology has made the idea of set working hours obsolete for many. As a freelance journalist, I can write and email my editors at 3 a.m. if I like. And, perhaps in response to our evolving workdays, domestic structures are shifting to recall sleeping habits from other milieus. A record number of people live alone. Multi-generational families cohabiting in shared houses has been declared a new urban trend. Separately sleeping couples are increasingly common, as well: According to the National Association of Home Builders, 60 percent of custom homes will likely have dual master bedrooms by the end of 2015. The sites and configurations of our days and our beds are in flux.

Studies suggest that later-starting school days, especially for adolescents, would encourage better-rested and higher-performing students. But while our nexus of social and temporal arrangements are changing, we adults are sticking to old 11-to-7 sleep ideals, which is probably why we’re so bloody exhausted. I’m by no means denying that the coveted eight-hour sleep stretch makes me feel gloriously alert, but I am suggesting that we think about other models that might make us feel as good and which fit our shifting family and work structures. A recent study found that weight gain might have less to do with what we eat, and more with the time of the day we eat it. The clock is round and offers many permutations. Instead of pumping ourselves with downers and then uppers, we need to envision a new way to rest.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I wake up to nurse a new daughter every 90 minutes. Even if I don’t sleep tonight, I console myself, imagining the two of us resting on a beach hammock in a tropical Southern Hemispheric land—in the 18th century, while we’re at it—I’ll survive. I’ll rest in the morning, or afternoon, or with her lying on my belly. Or, frankly, whatever works.

Judy Batalion More Info
Judy Batalion’s first book White Walls: A Memoir of Motherhood, Daughterhood and the Mess in Between will be published 
by NAL/Penguin. A former columnist for The New York Times’ Motherlode blog, Batalion has written essays, reviews, "

May 17, 15

"Life Is "Triggering." The Best Literature Should Be, Too. A few Columbia students want warnings on Ovid. What's next? Here's what Literature Fascism would look like.
By Jerry A. Coyne @evolutionistrue

Sadly, the decline in free speech at American universities, and the proliferation of ludicrous “trigger warning” mandates for books and courses, are topics covered largely by the right-wing media, so often I must hold my nose as I examine their sources. But even a right-wing venue can get stuff right, as Legal Insurrection does on the latest bit of nonsense from American campuses: a request from students at Columbia University (a great school, by the way) to put trigger warnings on the work of Roman poet Ovid.

In an op-ed in the Columbia student newspaper The Spectator, four student members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board (MAAB) declare that “Our identities matter in Core classrooms.” A “core” curriculum, of course, is a slate of courses all students are required to take, usually comprising humanities courses designed to expose people to great thinking, writing, and a diversity of opinions that will inspire discussion. But, according to the MAAB students, one course had some inimical effects on a student:

During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.

That professor was clearly wrong to dismiss the student, and perhaps he or she might have mentioned beforehand that there is violence and sexual assault in Ovid, but that’s as far as I’d go. After all, what body of literature, including the Bible and the Muslim hadith, doesn’t mention violence and sexual assault? The Bible even sanctions rape. Should divinity schools put trigger warnings on the Old Testament? I am sorry about the student who couldn’t abide the mention of sexual assault, but she should be getting help for her triggering from a therapist, not from a professor. Without such help, she’ll go through life triggered by every magazine and newspaper she sees.

The pathway of such trigger warnings—not just for sexual assault but for violence, bigotry, and racism—will eventually lead to every work of literature being labeled as potentially offensive. There goes the Bible, there goes Dante, there goes Huck Finn (loaded with racism), there goes all the old literature written before we realized that minorities, women, and gays weren’t second-class people. And as for violence and hatred, well, they’re everywhere, for they’re just as much parts of literature as parts of life. Crime and Punishment? Trigger warning: brutal violence against an old woman. The Great Gatsby? Trigger warning: violence against women (remember when Tom Buchanan broke Mrs. Wilson’s nose?). The Inferno? Trigger warning: graphic violence, sodomy, and torture. Dubliners? Trigger warning: pedophilia.

This is the road that Literature Fascism leads to (from the letter):

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

In the end, anybody can claim offense or triggering about anything: liberals about conservative politics, pacifists against violence, women against sexism, minorities against bigotry, Jews against anti-Semitism, Muslims against any mention of Israel, creationists against evolution, religionists against atheism, and so on. "

May 17, 15

"Acclaimed character actor and activist Edward James Olmos speaks about his Jewish roots and what has compelled him to speak out against anti-Semitism at this year’s Global Forum.
Edward James Olmos

Edward James Olmos. (photo credit:Courtesy)

When Edward James Olmos tells a story, people listen. His deep, gruff voice, natural charisma and approachable, yet dignified disposition allows him to spin a good yarn.

“The most incredible words you can say to someone is, ‘Let me tell you a story.’ Then the whole world opens up,” Olmos told The Jerusalem Post during a relaxing breakfast at a hotel Wednesday morning in the capital.

That must have been only one of the reasons why he was asked by the government to speak at the 5th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem Wednesday night. The Forum, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry and Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, has offered an impressive array of speakers, with Olmos scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

The other reason is the little known fact that Olmos has Hungarian/Jewish roots. Discovering this tidbit came as a shock to the prolific character actor, who has earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as the dedicated teacher of impoverished Hispanic kids in the 1988 classic Stand and Deliver.

“In 1980 I was having dinner with a fellow actor and on my way to the bathroom, a really distinguished looking man with beautiful white long hair and a neatly trimmed beard looked at me and said, ‘You’re Olmosh – you’re Hungarian. You’re Jewish and you’re a very big name in Hungary,’” altering the pronunciation of his name to fit that Hungarian inflection.

For years, Olmos shrugged off that night. Recently, though, Olmos came to research his past and found out that the gentleman was correct. His family, under threat of violent pogroms, fled Europe and immigrated to Mexico, before eventually settling in the United States, where Olmos was born.

Since verifying that revelation, he has tacked on combating anti-Semitism to the many other causes he fights for on a daily basis. Initially, Olmos received criticism from those around him for speaking out about his Jewish heritage, arguing that doing so would diminish his Hispanic roots. Olmos argued the opposite – having a rich tapestry of cultural ties only enhances one’s identity and doesn’t detract from it.

While he is reluctant to call himself an activist, he clearly is one. His humanitarian resume speaks for itself: A Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, a board member for children’s hospitals in Los Angeles and Miami, a spokesman for the Southwest Voter Registration Project (a non-profit that helps Latinos with voter registration) are just some examples of the causes he has dedicated his time to.

Yet, despite his accolades and the decades of humanitarian work, he remains humble. When asked about his remarks ahead of his Wednesday night address at the Forum, he said simply that his intention is show gratitude for those who have fought to combat anti-Semitism.

“My intent and my purpose, is to say thank you.

To thank everyone who came for whatever reason, whether you are a reporter or a government official who was asked to come here or a person who has dedicated his life as a service to others,” he said. “We are uniting in this room as human beings, to try to bring some sense of balance to the negative understanding of what anti-Semitism is. It’s hatred. Hatred for the Jews. Period.”

Although Olmos had months to prepare, he plans to be sincere and speak from the heart without overthinking his remarks.

“I have nothing written, I’m going to shoot from the heart, and tell stories. And thank them.”

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who met Olmos at the Forum’s Gala Tuesday night – has been attacked by critics for blowing the current state of anti-Semitism out of proportion, Olmos dismisses those criticisms.

“There is not an ounce of exaggeration. I am seeing it happen, before they even started this. For years, I’ve seen it,” he said.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is another channel by which Israel has come under fire. At first, Olmos demurs from commenting on the phenomenon, stating, “That’s a political structure that I’ve heard of, but it’s totally in the political realm.”

However, as the BDS movement gains momentum on college campuses and conflates the struggle of other marginalized groups (like African Americans and the LGBT community) it is a hard issue to ignore and one that has not gone unnoticed by the actor. When students held placards with “From Ferugson to Palestine,” emblazoned on them during police brutality protests across college campuses in America, Olmos understands the temptation to conflate two issues in order to lend support and legitimacy to both causes.

“I think whenever the awareness is brought into play, there has to be something to it. It doesn’t always mean it’s correct. People will try to bring awareness to a situation,” he said carefully.

“I think the Palestinians deserve a state. I think most people do. The ones that don’t have a problem. Israel deserves their own state, so do the Palestinians. I’m quick to say that.”

He is wary that such rhetoric can quickly escalate into anti-Jewish sentiment.

“That is the new kind of anti-Semitism. They’re not saying, ‘I hate Jews. They’re saying I love Palestine and hate Israel,’” he continued.

Olmos condemned those that preach violence for the sake of peace: “The destruction of one people over the advancement of another has not worked, does not work and never will. That’s as fascist as you can get!”

In addition to his charity work, Olmos has been busy trying to develop a Holocaust film that details what American authorities knew before the horrors in the camps became common knowledge. Accomplices, he hopes, “Will cause humanity to stop saying, ‘We didn’t know.’ It will put the naysayers to rest.’” With all of his accolades under his belt – he has won both a Golden Globe and Emmy – and the widespread acknowledgment for his humanitarian work, it would be easy for Olmos to rest on his laurels and not take on such an ambitious project.

However, Olmos’ life philosophy on good deeds, while simple, is not easily dismissed.

“I don’t think actors should do anything,” he chuckled, when asked if actors should be role models. “I think they should act. I try to make a difference, and I think people should help. That I think they should do and consistency in behavior brings about a certain amount of legitimacy.”

In that respect, Olmos has certainly led by example and stayed true to himself."

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